The Chinese Zodiac
Author Alison Goodman models her concept of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune after the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Falling in an established order within the cycle, the animals, according to legend, once bickered over who would head the cycle of years. The gods held a contest to see which animal would first reach the opposite side of the river; that animal would lead the cycle. Although the ox was winning, the rat had ridden across on its back and jumped onto the bank first. The pig swam lazily, lost the race, and consequently fell to last in the twelve-year cycle.
In the Chinese zodiac these animals appear on a circular chart, representing the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar, as opposed to the linear concept of time found on the Western solar calendar. This lunar calendar stems from ancient astronomy as well as a 5,000-year-old Chinese astrological tradition.
Although Chinese people have followed the Western calendar since 1911 (since the fall of the Qing Dynasty), festive celebrations such as the Chinese New Year still follow the lunar calendar. In this calendar the beginning of the year occurs sometime between late January and early February. Modern Chinese calendars often print both solar and lunar dates.
One interesting tidbit about the lunar calendar is that the animal signs allow for a polite way to compute a person's age. Instead of asking someone how old they are, a Chinese person might ask them what their sign is; if the age can already be narrowed down to a twelve-year span, the animal sign will then determine the exact birth year.
In addition to showing birth-year animals, the Chinese zodiac also reflects "inner" and "secret" animals which correspond to birth month and birth hour respectively. Other Chinese traditions, such as Feng Shui (which translates literally as wind-water, pronounced fung-shway), interact with the Chinese zodiac, as do the five traditional Chinese elements: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. The 12 birth-year, or "outer" animals combine with the 12 inner animals, 12 secret animals, and 5 elements to create over 8000 personality combinations.
Discover your Chinese Zodiac animal
This article was originally published in February 2009, and has been updated for the
August 2010 paperback release.
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